Al Dura Show Trials End Badly
An apparent victory for state-owned France Télévisions network and Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin in the long legal battle they initiated against French citizen Philippe Karsenty may turn out to be the last stage in a cascade of strategic errors... by the broadcaster. On June 26th the 11th Chamber of the Appellate Court convicted citizen Karsenty of slander and ordered him to pay €7000 in damages for publicly declaring that the al Dura news report broadcast from Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip on September 30, 2000 was a hoax.
The video at the heart of the controversy was said to depict in real time the killing of a Palestinian youth, identified as Mohamed al Dura, and the wounding of his father Jamal, "targets of gunfire from the Israeli position." None of this is visible in the video shot by cameraman Talal Abu Rahmah--less than one minute of an essentially static scene. The action and the accusation are superimposed by Enderlin's voice-over commentary and elaborated in an enveloping narrative constantly repeated over the years. The incendiary effects of the broadcast were instant and long-lasting while, in other quarters, doubts were immediately raised about its authenticity.
In 2004, ignoring a substantial body of critical analysis published worldwide, France 2 and Charles Enderlin pressed charges against three seemingly defenseless bloggers, with the announced intention of silencing all doubters once and for all. The persistent line of attack pursued in the courtroom as in the media has been to portray those who question the reliability of the al Dura broadcast as far-right crackpot conspiracy theorists with axes to grind. Additional adjectives are added according to circumstances. By suing for libel, the plaintiffs avoided a serious probe of the controversial news report while playing on the ambiguity of libel law to claim, with each small legal victory, that its authenticity was validated. In fact, the Court was not called to judge the facts but, rather, to judge the competence and good faith of citizen Karsenty: did he, at the time he denounced the report as a hoax, perform due diligence, accumulate adequate proof, and express himself in measured terms without personal animosity against Charles Enderlin and France 2.
Utterly disregarding this distinction, al Jazeera's [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu_Qw7rQq98] on the spot courthouse report opened with a banner: "French court rules intifada video was authentic." Briefly interviewed, Philippe Karsenty said he is confident that the truth will not be silenced. "What happened here was outrageous...obnoxious." Counsel for the plaintiffs, Maître Bénédicte Amblard, announced with a smile: "My client is satisfied with this condemnation that will bring an end to years and years of trials." As if Charles Enderlin had been dragged through the courts for 7 years by grumpy crackpots!
A France Télévisions communiqué reiterates her client's satisfaction that Philippe Karsenty was punished for "baseless accusations against the news report of the death of Mohamed Al Durah." In sanctioning a "grave insult to the honor of a journalist" the court recognizes the merits of all journalists who practice their vocation with professionalism.
Having attended 99% of the hearings in this case I can testify that citizen Karsenty became increasingly professional while France Télévisions and Charles Enderlin fumbled and mumbled, endlessly repeating the same weak arguments, producing no evidence to substantiate their case. Convicted in the court of first resort despite the avocat général's [public advocate] eloquent plea for acquittal, Karsenty won on appeal... because the court viewed raw footage shot at Netzarim Junction that day by Abu Rahmah. The plaintiffs took the case to the highest court ["Cassation," which cannot be compared to the Supreme Court] where it was remanded to the appeals court on the grounds that the Appellate judge had improperly assisted the defendant by ordering France 2 to hand over the raw footage. In plain terms this means that the concrete evidence sustains Karsenty's claim that the scene was staged. But he didn't have the footage in 2004.
Given this bizarre judicial logic, the Appellate Court reached its guilty verdict on June26th. Case closed? On the contrary, the accumulated evidence produced by the defense in the course of this stubborn litigation has visibly strengthened the case against the broadcaster. Elsewhere, Al Dura demythifiers have pursued and refined their investigations, reaching and convincing an ever wider public. Forces determined to erase the al Dura blood libel are emboldened, not intimidated. In the space of a few short days since the verdict was pronounced, new information has been made public, new voices are raised. Several books-in French and in English-- are slated for publication this fall.
And what will France Télévisions and Charles Enderlin do about it? If the al Dura news report met the standards of professional journalism, if the broadcaster had responded to challenges by providing corroboration instead of suing bloggers, the affair would have been honorably settled long ago. The problem is that the news report cannot be corroborated and the endless lamentation of its producer cannot substitute for concrete evidence.
The al Dura broadcast is not a mixed grill that can be served to each according to his taste; it is an indivisible whole. The France 2 cameraman who shot the alleged incident testified under oath: Israeli soldiers fired on their sitting target for 45 minutes until they "finally" killed the Palestinian "child" ... deliberately... in cold blood. The crossfire dear to hearsay commentary does not exist. The 45 minutes of uninterrupted gunfire "solely from the Israeli position" are necessary to establish the heartless cruelty of Israeli soldiers.
The blood libel triggered the 21st century version of pogroms in Israel-shahid operations misnamed as "suicide bombings" --and vicious attacks on Jews worldwide. Why would the targets of the blood libel stand by in silence today, when a French court managed to recognize legitimate doubts about its authenticity? Jews are not defenseless!
Overcoming deep-seated reluctance to impinge on press freedom or conduct what could look like a whitewash, the Israeli government formed a commission under the direction of General Yossi Kuperwasser, appointed by General Moshe Ya'alon, to investigate the affair. The findings are published in a 36-page document that is a model of clarity. After months of thorough examination of the evidence, the commission concludes that Jamal and Mohamed al Dura were not hit by Israeli gunfire and, moreover, as far as the video is concerned, were not hit or wounded at all. Countless discrepancies, anomalies, inaccuracies and outright falsehoods support the claim that the scene was staged. Charles Enderlin, who is wont to dismiss critics who have never set foot in Gaza and know nothing about war, had to find other ways to deflect the findings of the top brass commission composed of a solid roster of specialists. He claims France Télévisions was not invited to participate. Our sources report that the invitation, relayed by the French ambassador to Israel, was declined.
Convicted but not beaten, Philippe Karsenty deplores the unhealthy collusion between the executive, the courts, and the media to stifle the truth. "If President Hollande is serious about his promise to combat anti-Semitism, he should demand that France Télévisions withdraw the falsified news report." The al Dura affair is not a mano a mano between Charles Enderlin and Philippe Karsenty in the French judicial arena; it is a burning international issue that must be addressed-- the perversion of Western journalism in the service of forces opposed to civilized values, including the very press freedom enjoyed by those journalists. The al Dura news broadcast with its enveloping narrative not only incites to murderous hatred, it undermines the rational thinking that is our safeguard against tyranny.
Revised 09:37 EDT